Sunday, February 21, 2010

Köln (Cologne) Karnival

Lent is upon us, so it is time to get all our partying out of our systems. In Germany, Cologne is to Karnival what New Orleans is to Mardi Gras, so of course we have to go check it out firsthand.
We took a fast train the little over 2 hours to Cologne. As soon as you disembark the train at the main train station, you find yourself standing in the shadow of Cologne cathedral, which is one of the largest in the world. Outside people are dressed up in all sorts of elaborate and colorful costumes. If you recall, Shea and I went to Mainz last year for Karnival, so we were able to re-use our costumes. Hello, Poncho Villa and Old blue-haired Lady...good to dust you off again.
We followed the bands of musicians through the streets and stopped in any number of bars where the local beer is flowing. Heck, if the bar was too crowded to get inside you just party right there in the street.
Cologne is known for its Kölsch beer, which is very strong and served in small glasses. We definitely helped ourselves to our fair share. We checked out several different bars and had a great time dancing, singing, and meeting people from all over the world who came to Cologne to celebrate.
After partying ourselves in to the late night hours, we headed to our hotel and hit the sack. We woke up Sunday feeling really could call it a Köln Karnival Kölsch Kater ("Kater" is German for hangover). We had a little lunch and then caught our train back home.
Next year, we'll meet you all there!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My Big Fat Greek Vacation

Frankfurt is cold...cold and snowy. The snow is fun for a while, but eventually it's just yuck.
So, what better idea than flying on down to Athens, Greece, to soak up some sun and check out some ancient history.
After a nice long flight delay in Frankfurt due to the aforementioned wintry precipitation, we arrived in Athens a little before midnight on Friday night January 29th. We found the right bus and headed into the heart of the city where our hotel was located. From the main bus terminal, we then walked the short distance to our hotel, woke the night desk-man, and checked in. We debated heading back out, but decided to settle-in instead and rest up for the weekend.
On Saturday, we woke up to sunshine, bright blue skies, and warm weather. Ahhhh, we were definitely ready to welcome some sun-kissed cheeks.
We headed first thing to a pastry shop just across the street for some breakfast. Shea ordered a Greek coffee, which neither of us had ever tried. The coffee is definitely more of an acquired taste, but the shot of rose liqueur and square of candy that are served accompanying the coffee more than made up for stout java.
From there we walked to the Greek Parliament building to pay some respect to the founders of democratic government. As we approached the front of the building we noticed a large crowd of people gathered to watch the changing of the guard at the Greek tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was an interesting display with lots of high leg kick marching and timing - and men in skirts. We toured around the outside of the Parliament to the National Gardens. There was beautiful foliage and rows of orange trees. We noticed that there seemed to be enormous amounts of fallen oranges that were going to waste and we wondered why no one was putting them to use? We selected two from a tree and put them in our backpack for a later snack. We then finished touring the gardens with its small zoo and headed back into the heart of the city to the ancient market area.
At the market area, you find yourself at the foot of the plateau with the Acropolis sitting atop. The Acropolis and Parthenon dominate the city, and you are easily able to see why it has been heralded for thousands of years.
We were going to head on up to the top, but when we went to enter the historical park, the ticket office told us if we came on Sunday, the park was free...see you tomorrow Acropolis.
Instead, we went and visited an ancient amphitheater and then toured the Acropolis museum, which houses artifacts from the site. We decided to enjoy our oranges and after one bite the burning from the acidic slice was enough to show us why nobody was eating these things. After several hours on our feet we had a late lunch and enjoyed meeting and talking with a nice older couple on a world tour from Norway. For dessert, I had my first taste of baklava...I loved it and was determined to have it at every meal for the rest of our time there.
After our late lunch, we toured around the more modern shops of Athens and headed back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. We followed our guidebooks suggestion and headed to a traditional Greek restaurant for dinner. It was wonderful with fresh vegetable, salads, and seafood (and of course baklava). We tried some of the local wine and tried a digestive of the world-renowned ouzo (whoa - and we thought the Greek coffee was stout.) After dinner we toured around the historical roman agora (roman plaza) and then headed into a club to enjoy a nightcap before heading to bed.
On Sunday, we woke up to the sound of church bells from the Greek Orthodox Church across the street. We grabbed some breakfast, which included some Greek yogurt for Shea. Shea really enjoyed it with the wonderfully sweet honey. From breakfast, we headed up to the Acropolis and walked around the ancient site taking pictures of the modern city laid out before us. We walked around the Parthenon and were amazed at the size and age of the structure. We toured the ancient park and walked through the remains of the ancient legislative buildings the Greeks used to develop democracy.
We then decided to head over to the port for lunch. We thought we might be lucky and get to stroll along a beach, but to our misfortune, the port of Athens is a very busy dock and not much of a spot for romantic strolls. We were able though to enjoy a great lunch of gyros, so much so that I had two. Opa!!! (Greek for hooray)!!!
We then took the subway over to the site of the 2004 summer Olympics. The site had a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains, and we enjoyed seeing the more suburban lifestyle of the Athenians. We headed back into the city to watch the sunset from our rooftop balcony and enjoyed a late dinner.
We really enjoyed our short trip to Athens - the city, the people, and the food were all warm and friendly. We were able to get a slight rose on our cheeks just as we had hoped. During the trip, Shea and I decided that I must look Greek, because at least a half dozen times people speaking Greek politely asked me questions that all I could do was smile back and reply, "sorry, but that's Greek to me."